Kevin Blissett: Out of the Cave

Leadership, Classroom 2.0, Curriculum, China

Content vs. Skills

Andrew J. Rotherman analyzes “21st century skills” and confronts the perennial conflict between content-oriented and skills-oriented education and comes to the conclusion–with which I agree whole-heartedly–that this discussion presents a false choice.

Rotherman correctly contends that whether to focus more on how to learn rather than what to learn has been debated since the days of Plato, though you wouldn’t know it from the fact that some education circles label it as a “new” approach. The International Baccalaureate Organization, for example, has been using an “inquiry” approach to education for 30 years.
Rotherman’s main point is that having the skills without the proper amount of content does not provide an adequate context for using the skills and critical thinking. That is, learners must have the content foundation upon which to exercise these skills.

To critically analyze various documents requires engagement with content and a framework within which to place the information. It’s impossible, for instance, to critically analyze the American Revolution without understanding the facts and context surrounding that event. Unfortunately, state, national, and international assessments show that despite a two-decade-long focus on standards, American schools still are not delivering a content-rich curriculum for all students.

Unfortunately some 21st-century skills proponents believe these skills should replace the teaching of content. They believe that because so much new knowledge is being created, students should focus onhow to know instead of knowing. This view threatens to reopen a debate in American education that is not new either: content pitted against critical thinking rather than the two complementing each other.

Ultimately, schools need to use both approaches, and I’m not sure that either philosophy is more important that the other. Students need to be able to provide a content context for information and also need to be able to analyze and expand upon it. To the degree that schools do both, they will be successful in preparing learners for the 21st century, in my view.


March 28, 2009 - Posted by | skills

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